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Smart phone: Imaging is new kid on the block

Posted: 18 Aug 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:smart phone? data? pda? cellphone? camera phone?

Over the next few quarters, we may see the lines between feature phone and smart phone blurring in the same way it's happening in the crossover between cellphone and PDA

Majeed Ahmad is Managing Editor of Electronic Engineering Times - Asia.
The idea of smart phones was borne out of the wireless industry's desire to move beyond voice - into the data realm - during the days of Internet euphoria. The initiative, at least partly, was also meant to fend off Microsoft's advances in the wireless markets.

While these smart gizmos were to sport data-centric services, such as e-mail and mobile Internet, a central piece of software was considered a must. That's how operating-system software started to be seen as an intrinsic part of the smart-phone equation.

But there is no engineering definition of smart phones. Starting as a PR term, the notion of smart phones has been steadily evolving since 1998. And the common perception about them as some kind of cross between cellphone and PDA is being constantly challenged by new developments. The latest one is the fusion of imaging devices into cellular handsets and portable computers.

Camera phone is not only shaking the world of digital photography, it's changing the rules of the game in the cellular world too. As many as 40,000 units of Sony-Ericsson SO5051 camera phone were sold on the first day of its launch in Japan. Analyst firm IDC projects an 80 percent annual growth for camera-equipped phones over the next two years.

Not surprisingly, therefore, Texas Instruments Inc. is joining hands with Sharp Corp. to jointly develop a reference design for 1Mpixel camera phone. The partnership will benefit from the Japanese maker's prowess in camera module and display technologies and TI's expertise in GSM/GPRS silicon. The two firms are planning to scale their collaboration to higher-level products in the future - up to 4Mpixels.

Apart from easing demand for higher resolutions, such undertakings may also help digital-media processors achieve better signal interfaces with devices like camera modules.

Camera-equipped handset generally comes under the category of feature phones, a high-growth segment that demands multimedia functionality but doesn't require a full-fledged operating system. But ubiquitous camera phones could spark growth in other areas like wireless games and m-commerce, which in turn, will boost the wireless-data initiatives conceived on smart-phone platform.

Over the next few quarters, we may see the lines between feature phone and smart phone blurring in the same way it's happening in the crossover between cellphone and PDA. In that case, the cellular world's switch to digital photography will only prove a step forward in making multimedia a key ingredient of smart-phone recipe.

- Majeed Ahmad

Electronic Engineering Times - Asia

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